Never and Nowhere by Nicole DragonBeck

For Felix, who is one of my favorite people in the universe, and not only because he gives me marvelous story starters.

“P.S. I love you all” read the typeset note in her hand. Hopefully it would be enough of a clue to find out who she was – and how she died.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Katie said aloud, and turned it over to see if there was anything written on the back. “And I know who I am, thank you very much.”

The paper was blank, only the faint tracery of the letters “lla uoy evol I .S.P” showing through from the other side.

Katie sighed and sat down on the vast white ground under her, which stretched away forever, or perhaps it became walls which went up and up to a ceiling far over head, but it all looked white to her.

“Why would I bring this with me?” she wondered. “Wouldn’t a knife or a rope or a fire starter be more useful?”

She sat there for quite a while puzzling over this, until she became frustrated, and then bored. For no other reason than it was something to do instead of sitting there, she got up and started walking.

Katie walked and walked through the whiteness, and several times she thought about changing direction, that there was nothing in front of her, but she pushed on. Just as she was about to give in to the desire to turn and head off in a tangent, a black speck appeared in the distance.

Katie shielded her eyes and peered forward, but it remained no more than a black dot. She broke into a jog, and the dot grew, and grew, until she could tell it was a person, and then resolved some more until she came upon a very familiar face, although this one was scowling fiercely.

“Hi,” Katie said, looking down at Katie.

Katie looked up, and her scowl deepened. “What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Katie admitted.

“This is going to get very confusing very quickly if we’re both Katie,” Katie snapped. “I’m Katie. You can be Katherine.”

“That’s a good idea,” Katherine said, and pushed blond hair behind her. “Do you know what this means?”

She held out the note to her counterpart on the floor.

“Why would I know that?” Katie said in a nasty tone. “You’re the one who’s got it.”

Katherine was going to answer, but a sound drew both their gazes.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I heard it. I’m not deaf.”

Katie scrambled up and started in the direction of the sound, and Katherine followed. They came upon a third person, who looked like the first.

“We’ll call her Kate, just to keep things simple,” Katie informed them.

“Are you always this bossy?” Katherine wondered.

“Who are you calling bossy, stupid?” Katie said.

Katherine pretended not to hear the insult, and looked at the person with their arms wrapped around their knees, making small frightened sounds as they rocked back and forth, eyes darting about.

“What’s wrong?” Katherine asked, putting a hand on the girl’s – Kate’s – shoulder.

Kate jumped and gave a startled shriek, looking at Katie and Katherine like they might eat her.

“It’s okay,” Katherine said in a soothing voice.

“Yeah, sure it is,” Katie butted in. “She looks real okay.”

Katherine was saved by a loud wail, and the three finally identified the sound they’d heard.

“That’s someone crying,” Katherine said.

“Oh, well done,” Katie clapped. “Where are you going?”

Katerine made her way farther into the whiteness and found a girl crying pitifully on the floor.

“Everyone, meet Kathy,” Katie waved her hand. “Aren’t we a great little group? Just missing the leper.”

The girl they’d dubbed Kathy was crying more now, loudly and messily, snot dripping down her chin.

“What’s the matter?” Katherine asked, and Katie snorted.

“Who cares? What are you going to do about it anyway?”

Kathy’s sobs increased in volume and frequency, and Katherine became alarmed that she might choke and asphyxiate herself. She knelt beside the crying girl and patted her shoulder.

“There, there,” Katherine said awkwardly, but her words only made Kathy cry harder. “It’s going to be okay…no, no, shh, now. Okay. Let’s just go this way and maybe there’s a way out.”

Katherine helped Kathy stand, and found a tissue in her pocket, which the other girl went through in two seconds and kept crying. They walked some more, Katherine mulling over her note, and keeping her eyes peeled for anyone else. She was rewarded a short time later when they happened across another one of themselves, standing there and staring down at her hands with an unblinking gaze, seeing nothing.

Kate wouldn’t look at the new girl and tried to hide behind Kathy, and Katie looked unimpressed. “Now you can ask what’s wrong, because there’s something definitely wrong with her. Her name is Mary, by the way.”

“Hi there,” Katherine said, ignoring Katie, and feeling a strange completeness now. “Do you know what this place is?”

“This is Never and Nowhere,” the fifth mumbled, her gaze not moving from her hands.

“How do we get out?” Katherine asked, pleased with the progress.

“You can’t,” the fifth said. “It’s no use. You’re trapped here forever.”

“This is ridiculous,” Katie grumbled. “I can’t take this anymore.”

Kathy started hiccuping along with her now silent sobs, eyes red and puffy.

This can’t be the way out. There’s no way the five of us are getting out of here like this, Katherine thought. It’s too complicated. It has to be simple. Katherine looked down at the note – P.S. I love you all – and then up at the group of people clustered here. Simple enough to write in in five words.

“P.S. I love you all.”

“What?” Katie snapped, as tears started pouring down Kathy’s face. Mary just stood there as if she hadn’t heard.

“I love you all,” Katherine repeated and knew how to get out of this Never and Nowhere. “I love you all.”

“No you don’t,” Mary mustered the energy to say. “Love isn’t real.”

“I love you all.”

“You’re lying!” Katie shouted, her face going red as a vein pulsed in her temple.

“I love you all,” Katherine said simply and knew it was true.

The white began to crumble around her with great crashes and shakes.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Kate said, her eyes darting about. “What’s going to happen to us?”

“I love you all,” Katherine said to herself and let the note fall from her grip.

Somewhere else, in a place that was Sometime, a real place with color and motion and good things, Katie opened her eyes.

 

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Translation Errors by Brandon Scott

For Jerrod Ruble, who thought this was going to be a different story.

“Dale pues, y en donde queda la persona?”

“I’m sorry. What was that?” Xin asked. “Is that…what is that?”

The creature, a ten-foot-tall green ape, cocked its head and fiddled with his small plastic-looking oval on his hairy chest. He pressed his long fingers against the surface, trying to bring it back to working order.

After a moment, a spark erupted from the surface of it, and the ape cleared his throat. “I was asking you to give me the location of your colleague, more or less. The translator is remarkably not tuned today.”

Xin considered this, thinking as a huge ship flew overhead. The spaceport was never a quiet place, not conducive to higher brain function activities, but he had to make the sale one way or the other. Paying for the stuff back at the casino was imperative.

“He’s not around now.”

“Well, clearly,” the ape said. “Hence why I asked.”

“No, I mean—” Xin cleared his throat and wondered how screwed this would get for him. A Upernit like this one, while not a meat-eating species, was not a person he wanted pissed off.

“I mean he is not alive anymore.” Xin glanced at something but saw something else entirely. A few memories flashing in his eyes. “He did not survive the last trip. The one to get these.”

And, on the word “these” he opened his pack and withdrew a solid mass of quartz-like material. All jagged and producing a faint light. It was eerie and hard to stare at, like the sight of it might make you go mad from the sheer gall of viewing.

The alien appraised it, but did not blindly grab—he was no fool. There was a reason that it was in a reinforced bag—and that Xin held it so gingerly. The air could burn like ignited methane if those things got aggravated.

“And what happened to him, what became of—”

The machine on his fur sparked, and what came out of his mouth next was a language of guttural shouts and oddly sensual hisses. Also, a good amount of phlegm. Unfortunately, Xin didn’t understand such a tongue without a working translator.

The alien gestured at the material and mimed for Xin to give it to him. Xin shook his head and held out a demanding hand. Cash first, then the ape got his crystals. And even then, Xin planned to track the Upernit for a few miles. See what a creature like him wanted with a power source like that. Certainly, not for travel like he’d said in the order. Space fuel, though not always cheap, was easy to find. The crystal was more conducive to torture or genocidal purposes.

At the impudence, the ape got pissed and reached for the leather-like belt around his waist, drawing a long-barreled silver pistol. Xin recognized the model, old but reliable.

Xin’s gun was not so old. In one motion, he flipped open a pouch and drew out the boxy pistol with a large handle. It dwarfed his hand and could take the ape and send his blood all the way up to the stratosphere if Xin pulled the trigger.

The ape stopped taking out his own weapon and stared at the grill of the gun, nose drawn open and flared—a signal of panic and fear for his species.

Xin tried to hit the Upernit’s communication device with the side of his hand, tried to get the translator working. When that failed, he stepped back and tilted the weapon for the ape to deal with the device himself.

A sound to the side caught both of their attention, and Xin glimpsed a few men and women of different races now looking at the spectacle with interest. Xin had chosen somewhere quiet and unpopulated for this meeting, but apparently, any part of the city didn’t stay that way for long.

The ape got the device back to a functioning, if still sparking, state.

“We had a deal,” he growled.

“You’re right, we do. But I need my payment for this. I need to get off the planet—I imagine at least.”

The ape’s hair bristled, the implications of that pretty clear. The reaction was all Xin needed to be sure of his intentions. The Upernit reached down on his belt, opposite to the pistol, and drew out a sack made of basic animal skin.

“Here,” the ape said, the coins inside the bag clinking. “This is what we agreed to, right?”

Xin was not dumb, he kept the gun on the ape. “You count them out for me, okay? I want to be sure that I got what I wanted—”

The bag of coins was not full of coins. Instead: rocks. And those hit right in Xin’s face. The ape, being about twice as strong as a human male, snatched the crystals—risking his hand—and shoved the man backward.

Xin stumbled and pulled the trigger on his gun. And damn did it kick and roar in his hand. The people around staggered, covering their ears, as a huge energy blast spewed forth from the barrel and made the air ripple with purple death.

The building behind, the entire edge of it, sheared off and atomized.

But the shot still missed, and the ape ran with huge pounding steps, going around the corner, brushing past the watchers. Xin ran after him, waving his gun around. The onlookers gave him a wide birth. He sprinted harder, watching as the mammoth ape took a running jump up to a second-floor windowsill and swung further upward. The action should have disturbed the crystals, but considering the ape did not turn to ash and drift down slowly, along with the city block, it appeared he had a gentleness in his motions.

Xin debated following further but instead did a quick calculation in his head. He ran off the opposite way, and past the group of onlookers again. As he did, one of them—a shadow-like being—opened its fanged maw and uttered noises. Noises failing to sound like the intended English.

Xin kept on running, somewhat glancing back, trying to parse what he was saying, when a truck, the truck the alien had been trying to tell him about, smashed into the front of him and sent him careening backward with a burst of blood and broken bones. He managed to remain conscious as all the other people screamed around him.

The man looked down at the gun he had been holding and saw smoke emanating off the wide barrel. A blast used to full effect.

It was then, as a second thing to notice, Xin got that the truck that hit him was gone, as was most of the surrounding street. The only remaining driver, a small flamingo-like being, stood on shaking legs and yelled into a communication device. When Xin moved, even in a totally not meant to be threatening way, the being ran off in a panic.

Xin could not blame it for that. But he felt less compassionate when he discovered, in a matter of moments apart from each other, that he could not get up, and that the police were on their way. Several cars coming around, lights blaring.

The hover cars dropped onto the seared ground, and out of the first, came a few members of the native species. An aggressive, large-eyed, thin-bodied creature with long limbs. They held guns on Xin, and walked up to him, staring with fractured kaleidoscope eyes.

The front one, who lowered his gun, tried to say something to him. Came off as a balloon leaking hard consonants at the rhythm of a tribal drum.

Xin smiled weakly, “I speak English? Any variant you might like? I can do Interstellar British?”

The alien police officers looked at each other and said something else in their native tongue. Xin did not understand what any of it meant. They pulled out handcuffs, and Xin winced.

“Hey, you might want to get off this planet; a terrorist just made off with bombs.”

Of course, the one English word that the aliens understood was “terrorist,” and the guns remained on him with renewed vigor.

“Typical,” Xin said and wondered how long it would take them to realize they would have to drag his crippled body to the station.

Too long, he bet.

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Everything is Fake by Brandon Scott

Everything Is Fake by Brandon Scott

For Amanda Ryan, who probably didn’t expect this story to go the way it did.

 

They were gathered around chatting, a normal family get together, the only thing she couldn’t understand was how no one else seemed to notice that none of this was real…nothing.

Charlie Busker continued to watch as her family ate the food that was not there and moved at a table that was not there. She dropped her gaze back to the device in her lap and read the words again, staring at those damning bits of knowledge.

“You do know, right?” she eventually said, unable to stand it any longer. Eating fake chicken, by itself, was revolting to her, but they were making a mockery of themselves.

Her brother Scott cast his bespectacled gaze over to her. “What was that, sis? Something gotten into your panties again?”

Her mother clucked her tongue. “Now, now, let’s not use that at the dinner table, eh? What is it, Charlie?”

“This is not real. We’re eating at a fake dinner table,” she said. Swinging her phone upward for all to see, she presented the small black text of their foolishness. “It says right here, in the section on philosophy, that this table and this meal is likely to not exist—”

“Now, now, honey,” her father chided in-between bites of roasted pork. “We told you: no reading at the dinner table.”

“But, brain in a jar?”

Scott chuckled. “Is that what you want to eat then? Is that the meal plan?”

“No,” Charlie said, “and, Dad, I told you, there is no dinner table. There is no anything, at all. So, I am not breaking your rules.”

“Well then,” her mother said and slurped down her Ramen in thought. “That is a bit of a paradoxical reestablishment of our previously established rules governing her behavior, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Scott said, drawing out the word into a long sound that lost meaning halfway through. He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin before working his way through his lobster tail and butter sauce.

“Still, it is a tad rude,” the father said. “Won’t you just talk to us, instead of trying to disprove the existence of something or other—it’s unbecoming.”

Charlie said nothing in her defense. Her hands went limp at her side and stayed there. A slow vibration spread through her head, and she wondered if she had gone insane.

Then, she said the crazy conclusion, but, also, the only sane one.

“You’re not real either, are you?”

She looked down at her phone, seeing if it had any answers. She did not have a phone; she was holding a banana.

“Crap,” she said and watched her family eat their food and smile.

“Nope,” her brother said. “Nor did we ever exist. Isn’t that funny?”

To emphasize his point, he laughed, and his face flickered into a series of interlocking polygons and chaining lines of blue and red code. The effect rippled to the table before the texture’s detail came back to the whole structure.

The facial animations on her mother’s countenance failed, and her mouth flapped in a wholly unconvincing way toward Charlie. Her eyes did not sit in her skull the right way. Her audio sounded fine though.

For the first moment.

“Now, don’t listen to him, we are all perfectly—perfect-prefer—perfect…perfectly…real. Why would you ever doubt us?”

Charlie, with a jolt, got out of her chair. Her father looked at her in alarm, and his eyes stayed glued on her as he floated, slowly, and then fast, through the ceiling. The soles of his shoes lingering, flush with the architecture for a moment, before he was gone.

“Oh, we will have to go on the roof, I guess,” Scott said, and took a bite out of a turkey leg the size of his head. No marks appeared on the meat, despite gravy-stained chunks being now in his open mouth.

Charlie glanced back, only daring to not view her fake family for a moment—in case something else happened. A flood of panic went right up her spine as she discovered the door behind her also did not exist.

Her mother, with a concerned expression, got up—but only the lower half of her. Her upper body remained in the chair, floating there. No blood nor gore to this—wholly clean. But, still, Charlie moved backward into the wall like the legs planned to eat her.

“Go away!” Charlie yelled, at a loss for anything else to say.

“What are you bugging about sister?” Scott said, and his head elongated into a pointed, spear-like structure, the tip of which stretched right past the confines of the room. Off to who knows where.

He stood like he also planned to harass her, but his frame, including the entire length of his elongated head, blitzed out of reality with little fanfare. Here and gone. Scott ceased to exist.

The legs, upon Charlie trying to kick them away, fell into a pile of loose noodles—not even bending anatomically correct in their motion.

“I did not think this would happen,” were the numb words she had on the matter. “I just wanted to seem smart.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for thinking for yourself,” her mom’s upper half said before blinking out as the rest of the room did. Darkness ate at the edges, until she stood in a small circle, left alone.

“Wha—why did this happen?” Charlie said, somehow her emotions cooling rapidly. “What was the purpose of this?”

A voice, coming as not a surprise to her, answered the question. “Well, did it seem real? Was the whole endeavor realistic?”

“Not at all,” she said, “it broke like a fucking house of cards.”

“But, did you think you were real, at least?”

Charlie took her chin into her hand and considered this. “I guess so, yeah, in hindsight, now that I’m thinking clearly, I did.”

“Did you hear that?” came a farther away voice. “She said it seemed real—herself seemed real. That’s got to prove something!”

The first voice increased in volume. “Charlie, thank you for your services! You changed the world.”

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said, still emotionless.

“Yeah, this is so cool. And now…well, we can’t have you getting on the internet, so…bye.”

Charlie jolted and opened her mouth to say something else. But she did not exist anymore.

 

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What’s My Horrorscope? By Brandon Scott

For Nicole Dragonbeck, who soars on dragon wings.

She stared at the word “horrorscope,” and the vexation at the misspelling faded as terror threatened to overwhelm her.

For upon further looking, further observation, Autumn discovered that the name, though normally a typo at the best of times, was taken literally in this case. Almost without thinking, like curiosity had overridden even her most base functions, she had traced her finger down the line and found her own section.

She was a Leo, and that had meant nothing to her before this moment—beyond vague notions of leadership. She was not a firm believer in this sort of stuff, but her mom took such superstitions seriously, and she wondered what her mother would make of this. What she would think of the fate spelled out on the paper for her.

Once Autumn’s fingers touched the spot on the ancient-looking calendar, her finger stuck firm, and she immediately tugged in response—that initial rush of terror coming into her heart. With a yelp, she tugged the skin off entirely, losing her fingerprint, and a drop of blood dribbled down the paper and collected at the bottom.

“Shit,” Autumn mumbled, her emotion cooling without a trace—gone as quick as it came, and she reached forward to rub at the bloody spot when the man from before returned. He’d disappeared shortly after her arrival in the shop but now appeared back as if summoned.

Her heartbeat jolted at the idea that he very well may have been summoned.

“Ah, I see, that is one of our most popular products. Big with the horror junkies. I don’t know what you call such a fan club, but they love this thing.”

Autumn glanced back at the horrorscope, worried he might mind the blood, but, and this did not strike her as a good thing at all, the liquid had disappeared.

“I can see why,” Autumn said. “It’s messed up.”

The man chuckled before wiping at his white wisp of a beard. “Yes, I suppose it can be such if you think of things that way.”

He peered at her, and Autumn felt small. She had no idea why, but the man gave off an aura of being much, much larger than the spindly shopkeeper standing before her.

“But,” he continued, “I think you just don’t like it because you do not like the thing it has in store for you.”

There the sensation was again. That jolt. That irrational sledgehammer of emotion that hit her in the chest. Her hand curled into a fist. She glanced at the paper and scoffed.

“It’s all fake,” Autumn said. “They write it broadly, you know, make it fit anyone. Plays to expectations.”

“We have a skeptic,” the man said. His eyes were cold, Autumn concluded after a second. His snow-white beard was not the only thing about him frigid: an icicle in a human shell.

“Well, fine then,” he said, “Tell me: how specific is that prediction? That sound like a horror situation which is bound to apply to anyone?”

She glanced at it again and read the words again. She did not believe in gods either. So, she repeated her scoff.

“Yeah, right…I’m going to head out now. Sorry to take up your time.”

The man snapped his fingers and took a step away from her. “Oh, trust me. You did not waste my time at all.”

Before she could say anything or even react, the shop blacked out—one light at a time. Each one shorting out and eating the space in front of her.

She took a step back in alarm and found herself outside, the cold in her lungs again, the shop door sealed and with a “closed” sign on the wood. The inside dark and black and void.

Only for every light to bolt on at once. And for a massive, wide, squirming horde of interconnecting muscles and power lines to scream with a wide-open mouth and spasm into lashing, sparking, fervent madness, before the light blinked back out again.

Autumn experienced that fear once more, organic this time, her entire frame refusing to move. Her brain caught up to the picture and then tried to reject the burning afterimage in her own mind.

The cold was harsher on her now with a sharp edge. She looked around, and only now realized that on top of everything, it was late. It was too late. The sound of the city dead, coldly lifeless.

The storefront, despite being closed, was a mouth to her, and she sprinted away from it. Not wanting it to eat at her.

“It’s nothing,” she said to herself and did not convince herself at all. “He set up a projector…or something.”

She said these things as she ran, and it did nothing except make her run faster, and with more and more panic.

But, still, the horrorscope stayed in her head: the prediction. She could not shake the words, and a soft whimper, almost unconscious, like the urge to touch the paper, leaked out her mouth.

She was still not getting her breath. But she kept her body going toward her destination. Lurching forward.

You will find things have changed. The Gods of the Old World are merging with the New and the Modified and you will find that you will play a part in their rising and their understanding of the new world. You will experience sudden and violent changes to the positioning of something inside your body. Perhaps even some portions will be outside of you, on an altar.

Your lucky numbers are 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2.

She found herself mouthing those words. But she refused to accept them. And even when she came home, and found every single window with the curtains pulled back, and her parents standing stock still, each of them in a different window, with the entire house bathed in the entire battalion of her houses light fixture’s outflow, she still hung onto that idea that it was all nothing but a hippy-dippy bit of mumbo jumbo.

When she noticed the thin, cable-like things apparently dug into both of her parent’s ears, as they stood there and smiled, she was less certain.

Much less certain.

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Jumping Back by Nicole DragonBeck

For Desi, thank you for the abundance of Starters for my round three of SMFS (yes, I’ve been doing it that long), I think it is fitting that this one is last ❤

What kind of disturbed mind would have created the sight before my eyes and why?

Dystrin took a moment he did not have to gaze with unveiled shock and disgust at the painting in front of him. Some fanatic of the neo-Neoclassic had poured his heart and soul into the canvass, and that just made Dystrin sadder. Whatever happened to the magic of capturing beauty and truth with the paint and brush? How did it come to this confused effort to impress with an pseudo-erudite aloofness?

The so-called work of art was a dissonant riot of stark lines that did not touch or align at any point, against a thundercloud of splotches painted by someone who used a color wheel as a dartboard and threw blindfolded. Dystrin’s mind, so attuned to the melding of color and shape to create a likeness of what is and capture the magic within spaces and objects, had trouble comprehending how a mind that would make this could function.

The sound of footsteps echoing in the dark recesses of the museum drew Dystrin’s gaze to the vast space behind him, and reminded him that he did not have time to be critiquing each painting as he went. He needed to find a specific one and jump back.

He ran through marble halls, trying to keep his own footsteps from giving him away, but it was hard on the polished floors. At last he came to the wing of old paintings, the ones with real magic, old magic that the painters of this day and age could only touch upon and dream about.

Here, everything was hushed by thick velvet curtains. At least the curators gave these paintings the respect they deserved, and instead of crowding them together like peasants in front of a street stage, each was given its own wall, and a single light above each haloed the painting with a soft glow.

It was even harder for Dystrin to restrain his urge to stop and gaze at these, with wonder and reverence this time, but he really needed to get back before they caught him. It would be difficult to explain his presence here, and he had none of those all-important pieces of plastic identification that they loved so much.

He could move faster here because the plush carpet swallowed his footsteps, and he quickly reached the end of the wing, where the painting he sought lay displayed on a tiered dais guarded by diamond columns. But as Dystrin’s eyes traveled the length of the great painting like a lover’s caress, his heart sank. No, it can’t be!

He looked deeper, blue eyes probing the visible, and the invisible, trying to find the pull of the magic, but it was flat and empty. To the eye, it may have been identical, but he did not look with only his eyes. They’d switched it out with a replica. The original was probably somewhere in the vaults under lock and key. Leaving Dystrin stranded here.

He glanced around with wild eyes, heaving great gulps of air as he considered his options, trying to quiet the panic in his mind as the guards with their dogs came closer. He looked up, left with only one choice. He was going to have to choose one of the others, and then somehow, figure out how to jump back here and get to his painting. It was a frightening concept, not the least because no one had ever been known to do that, but better to be stuck there than caught by the men here.

Some of the paintings here were still originals, he could feel it, and Dystrin thanked whatever gods watched over this place for that. It seems people get stingy with beauty when they forget how to make it. The first three paintings he passed as he backtracked were empty forgeries, and while the fourth pulsed with magic, the scenery was a vast and stormy sea, lightning illuminating the silhouette of a lone ship. He was willing to take a risk, but he was not suicidal. The next six were no good either, and just as Dystrin was starting to think of a back-up plan for his back-up plan, he found one.

It was quiet and soothing, drawing the eyes in to the detail with the promise of treasure in the subtle lines and carefully placed colors. The forest opened to a grassy hill, and at the top was a fortress beautiful in its simplicity. This one will do.

The lights of the guards’ torches flashed erratically in the darkness, illuminating walls and arches and then leaving them invisible an instant later. The dogs yipped and howled as they sensed their quarry nearby.

Dystrin steeled himself, grabbed the gilt frame, and hauled himself into the painting. Space and time undulated past him, his eyes watered and his ears popped. Behind him, the light and sound from the other world faded as the one at the end of the tunnel grew more solid, until at last Dystrin stood among the trees he had been looking at just a moment before.

He looked behind him and saw a vague shape of a painting in the air, depicting a room in a museum, dark purple hangings protecting the precious art like a mother duck folding her ducklings underwing. As the portal faded, the image too would fade, until just the soft stirring of the leaves and the twitter of birds in the trees surrounded him.

And if the guards in the museum cared to look at the painting on the wall, they would see that a tall, lean figure with dark hair now stood among the trees, shrewd blue eyes gazing at them as a small smile played on his lips, taunting them by being right in front of them and totally out of reach.

But none of them looked, they just rushed by with their dogs. A moment later the dogs doubled back to where the scent was strongest and sat, tongues out, panting with satisfaction while the guards tried to get them to continue the chase. In the morning, when the first patrons of the day began to filter through the hallowed halls, the figure in the painting was long gone, leaving the little forest as empty as it had ever been.

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First SMFS Book is released!!!

Hello All!!!

I am excited to announce the release of the first of the Stories My Friends Started anthologies.

This is a collection of 5 stories, started by you, our friends, from each of the amazing Ink Slingers.

Please download, read, enjoy and review!!!

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Caffeinated Anarchy by Brandon Scott

For Kalvin, I don’t think I know you, but I like the cut of your word-based jib.

We are all reasonable men, all. But for all reason there is an edge, and I am at mine.

And, of all the things to push me there, it’s the thing that—perhaps—at the end of the day, I always knew would be my trigger. And that is caffeine. Sweet, sweet coffee and caffeine.

And the edge is the barista.

And, though she would not know it, her words, in this moment, I’m sure, will make her a historical figure. Songs will mention her by name—if only because she bothered to wear a name tag this fateful day.

“Here’s your drink,” she says to me and smiles with a soft smile. She has this reddish-brown hair, and this freckle dusting on her nose, which I love.

But, I put the drink up to my mouth, and in a second I do not love her anymore. Not in the littlest bit. Through the faint slit in the cap, the liquid inside sloshes into my throat and spirals down.

The acrid taste of the lack of cream is on my tongue and I die inside. I just…die. I cannot. As I said, this is my edge. I’ve dealt with enough shit, enough scorn. I failed a test, not an hour before this—and I think my girlfriend is fucking my English teacher. Which means she’s bi, if not flat-out gay, and this will not stand any moment longer.

They said having a pocket knife in class was enough to get arrested. I do not doubt it, but I still pull out the sucker I’m always carrying, and before she can say anything to defend herself, I plunge the blade into her throat with a war cry of the ages.

“I asked for milk!”

She gasps and looks at me in what I hope is pure shame. I pray she understands what she did to me in her final moments as her blood trickles down over the counter and she falls with rolling-back eyes.

I turn on my retracting motion, throwing my coffee over the counter into one of the other baristas and finish rotating to stare at the line behind me.

Standing there, as expected, is many other twenty-somethings: my people. And they have the glazed over expressions of people still in shock. My shirt is sticking down with blood, and I’m still gripping the offending knife.

I drop the knife and hold up both hands to curtail the incoming screams. I could just tell from the air they were coming.

“Okay,” I say, and my confidence surprisingly rises, “I know what you must think, but I have something to say.”

A pause and the woman in front of me has her mouth shrink back from a gasp to a neutral expression and cocks her head. The other people pause, looking confused.

“Well, okay then: explain,” she says.

I breathe out, nice and slow. “Alright, she gave me the wrong coffee, I asked for cream because straight black coffee is disgusting.”

“So, you killed her?” came another person’s response. “That seems like an overreaction.”

I narrow my eyes as all these things I’ve always wanted to say bubble to the surface. The cops will be here, no doubt, in the next minute. But I need to get this all off my chest.

“Yes, I did kill her. And you want to know why? Because that’s what the response should be! How many annoying people are there? Have you seen the people trickling into the newest classes at schools? It’s a fucking zoo! I say, that we, as millennials, have the right to murder those who offend us, even when it’s only a little bit.”

“What about safe spaces?” asks a familiar voice, coming from the back. Kallie, my literature sucking girlfriend, walked in during my speech and now she stood with her overalls and fedora.

I sigh and nod my head. “Yeah, obviously, we honor safe spaces. That just makes sense, but what I mean is…”

“Should we kill, like, equally?” Kallie chimes back into the conversation I’m having with my mob. “Like, we should honor women by murdering them more, or less? And what about, like debates…?”

With a skill, a skill I did not know I knew, I flick the blade through the crowd, nearly hitting a random dude with dreadlocks, before it plunges into Kallie’s forehead and sinks deep. She shudders and falls over, and the others clear to give her body some space.

Another long silence, and I hold out my arms, before looking back to step into the now empty—but full of the blood from the other girl I killed—main coffee-making space.

And I spread my arms out even further and smile. “Do you see what I mean! Is that not liberating? This is awesome!”

Another pause, and during it, I turn and add some cream to a straight black coffee, just like I like it. I add caramel sauce, since I can, and drain it in one gulp.

“This is the future. Am I right or am I right?”

One guy answers with a question. “Do we get to have free coffee too?”

I place my hands together and nod. Looking like I’m praying. “Oh yes. All you can drink. Let’s raid this place!”

The front girl smiles and bops her head. “Yeah, okay, yeah! This is perfect! Let’s do this!”

I pump my fist above my head and laugh. “Yeah, this is a perfect idea! Let’s go, let’s go! Coffee!”

The entire crowd cheers so damn loud. They make me almost deaf with the din of them, and I step back, taking with me another cup of coffee, as they stream into the space, fighting for the caramel.

I keep stepping back, going outside, and I feel impressed as my phone vibrates with more and more updates. Apparently, someone in the coffee shop recorded my revolutionary speech and posted it online.

The video went viral already, and my accounts are lit.

I slurp down my coffee and realize what this could all mean. What I could now do, as the world saw all I’d done, all I’d showed as the truth. Anything was possible now.

So, I figure I’ll go kill my English teacher before finals. And make sure not to piss off anyone in the process. After all, they had the right to plug me in the face same as I’d do to them.

I may now be a wanted criminal, and somewhat soon, probably, a starter of a murder horde and genocide, but that did not mean I was a hypocrite. No, never that.

I have my standards.

 

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